The award-winning wildlife photographer, Steve Race, chats to Bethan Andrews about Yorkshire inspiration, living in Scarborough and holding an event at Sewerby Hall Gardens
You’ve long been a committed and award-winning wildlife photographer based in Scarborough, but how did it all start?
I started off as a young child very interested in wildlife. So, I was more of a young naturalist and ornithologist first before I picked up a camera to become a wildlife photographer. I picked up a camera in the late eighties, which was obviously at that point a film camera, and just started to photograph the local wildlife near me, got hooked and went from there. It was the late nineties that I got a lot more serious regarding the professional photography side of things. It was only 12 years ago that we formed the company that I’m fellow director of, Yorkshire Coast Nature, where we do lots of wildlife watching events, trips, tours and lots of wildlife photography workshops. Prior to that, I had a conservation background working for the RSPB, so it all just started to link together to form where I am today.
It’s clear that your love for wildlife came before your love for photography, has that been helpful to you in your career?
Yes, definitely. It was a bonus really because you get a lot of photographers who photograph wildlife, but don’t have a lot of knowledge. I’ve got that knowledge base and all that background to be able to bring into my photography, so those early years were really important.
What is it about the wildlife world that drew you in?
I think it’s about getting outside and it being quiet, relaxing and mesmerising. I like to listen to the different sounds and smell the smells of nature. It’s so varied, too, from watching a local robin in your garden to tracking tigers in India or polar bears in the arctic – it all draws you in. Everyday is a school day and you’re always learning.
What do you love the most about being a wildlife photographer?
It’s the connection with nature. I love taking people out and teaching them, but being out there on my own, I love sharing a quiet moment with something that’s wild.
You’ve had an amazing career, including winning many awards. What have been the highlights for you?
I think the highlight was to get an image in Wildlife Photographer of the Year, which is basically the wildlife photography Oscars of the world! There’s about 46,000 entries and they only pick 100 every year. It was quite an early thing in my career, and I wasn’t planning or expecting it. So, when I entered one that I thought could do well, but thought it probably wouldn’t, when it did, well that was amazing!
You’ve had your work published through amazing channels such as the RSPB, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the National Trust – how has this felt for you over the years?
Oh, amazing! It’s obviously good to get exposure and it’s always good fun doing stuff with the media. We’ve just done stuff with Channel 5 on the Year of the Forest, and we’ve just been on Countryfile and Springwatch again.
You offer people the chance to learn directly from you at Sewerby Hall Gardens. What can people expect from this?
It’s a fantastic event. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is coming to Sewerby for the second year, so the event will be me doing an exclusive tour around the exhibition and I’ll talk through all the images and talk about different techniques that have been used. Then I’ll do a talk on my images and the background story of those, so that people can see how you could progress to become an award-winning photographer. Then, we’ll head up to Bempton Cliffs and do a hands-on workshop and photograph gannets and puffins at close range and I’ll be on hand to help and teach about different settings.
You’ve lived on the Yorkshire Coast all your life – what makes the area so special to you?
The wildlife and nature is just so amazing. The secret to being special is that we have such an array of different habitats. We’ve got the rugged coastline, we’ve got the incredible seabird colony at Bempton Cliffs with 400,000 seabirds, we’ve got the sweeping hills and valleys of the Wolds, the North Yorkshire forests and the North York Moors national park with moorland, hilltops and lower valleys. It’s the place to be for me in the UK!
In terms of your life in Scarborough specifically, where are your favourite places to get out and about in nature?
I live in a little village four miles outside, and I’m only 10 minutes from the forest so my main things are the coast with Bempton Cliffs being my main patch, and then secondly just getting into the forests and losing myself there. I do spend a lot of time in spring and summer in the North York Moors, which is stunning with all the heather.
What do you like to do in Yorkshire to escape and switch off?
The Yorkshire Dales is nice and it’s quite different to the North York Moors, too. I head to a few different nature reserves in Yorkshire I like too, like Black Top Sands down on the Humber and then over to west and south Yorkshire to a few other places as well. We’re spoiled for choice in Yorkshire, with so many variations of nature reserves. I also used to be a semi-professional basketball player, so I run the basketball club in Scarborough and coach my son’s under-16 team in Middlesbrough. It’s totally different, but sometimes you need a different type of escape!
When it comes to the wildlife in Yorkshire, what do you think people don’t realise?
I think people don’t realise how much wildlife there is in Yorkshire, and how much there is right on their doorstep. I don’t think people realise that it’s just not right far from where you live, so get out there and look for it!
Steve will be at Sewerby Hall Gardens on 10 May – see more at steverace.com; yorkshirecoastnature.co.uk